OUTFIELD HILL PART OF STORY FOR BLASTERS

OUTFIELD HILL PART OF STORY FOR BLASTERS

Independent Baseball Insider – Vol. 12, No. 30,   October 2, 2014
By Bob Wirz

Mickey Mantle helped put Joplin, Mo., on the baseball map in 1950 when he reeled off 199 hits and a Western Association-leading .383 average in only 137 games.  Old-timers in the city of 60,000 and market of 250,000 still talk about the feats of the 18-year-old.

Joplin is officially back in professional baseball for the first time since 1954 after being voted in during league meetings this week in Sioux City, Iowa, as the 13th member of the American Association for next season and assigned to what will be a five-team Southern Division.

One remaining similarity to the past is that games still will be played in Joe Becker Stadium, twice damaged by fires and now being completely renovated in a $4.7 million project.  It has a unique feature of an incline that goes up a few feet and stretches from the right-field foul line much of the way to center.  Outfielders will find a challenge roughly equivalent to the center field hill at Houston’s Minute Maid Park.

“We didn’t want to touch the character of that hill,” said co-owner Shawn Suarez, who along with baseball-playing brother Gabe will operate the Joplin Blasters.  “It is a smaller stadium which will allow fans to be right on top of the action,” Shawn Suarez added.  Construction has been under way for about a month, and will end up with 2,900 seats plus a grassy berm that will accommodate 1,300 more.

“The enthusiasm is there,” added Commissioner Miles Wolff.  “We think it (Joplin) is going to be a good addition (to the league).” The league has not yet issued its approval, but the Laredo Lemurs are going to have a change in ownership from Mark Schuster to a group The Laredo Morning News reports multiple sources have said will be the family of hometown businessman Benito Torres.

The addition of Joplin as well as Ottawa, Ontario, as a fifth team in the Can-Am League, means the two leagues will continue to have inter-league play.

(Fans not yet getting the complete Independent Baseball Insider column, which will be published 36 times in 2014, may do so for as little as $6.99 at www.WirzandAssociates.com.  Bob Wirz provides supplemental stories about Independent Baseball on his blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com.  The author has 16 years of major league baseball experience with Kansas City and as chief spokesman for two Commissioners, and lives in Stratford, CT.)